Thanks to a prolonged finale due to Mother Nature’s antics throughout the province, less than 24 hours will separate the conclusion of the 2016-17 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League regular season and the beginning of this year’s playoffs.
Wednesday’s conclusion to the 48th league campaign had a couple of big results at the opposite ends of the league standings.
The Flin Flon Bombers earned the second overall seed and the Sherwood Division pennant with a big 4-0 win at home over the Nipawin Hawks, who dropped to the fourth spot in the league standings.
Meanwhile a 4-2 loss to the Estevan Bruins ended the Melville Millionaires run for the 10th and final post-season spot, which was made even more disappointing by the fact that the Melfort Mustangs coughed up a two-goal lead in the third period in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Humboldt Broncos.
Granted, the Mustangs had already eliminated the Millionaires from the playoffs with their point for getting to overtime, but I’m sure the Millionaires players were wondering what could have been as they looked at the out-of-town scoreboard.
Now the real fun begins, as the run to the Canalta Cup begins tonight as the best-of-five Survivor Series begins in Weyburn as the Red Wings host the Kindersley Klippers.
We’ll look at those matchups in a minute, but before I make some soon to be wrong predictions on those two play-in series, let’s take a look at the two teams that will miss out on the post-season party.
12) La Ronge Ice Wolves – 6-47-1-4 – 4th in Sherwood Division
After ending a three-year playoff drought with a trip to the quarter-finals last season, the 2016-17 campaign was to forget for the Ice Wolves.
Shawn Martin was ousted as head coach on Oct. 24 after a 2-12-0-1 start, and was eventually replaced by former player Evan Vossen a couple of weeks later.
A 3-2 victory on Dec. 3 over the Melville Millionaires proved to be the final triumph for the Ice Wolves this season, as they lost their final 29 games.
That skid is nowhere near the longest losing streak in the SJHL, however, as the record was a 58-game streak set by the erstwhile Regina Silver Foxes that lasted from Jan. 28, 1974 to Feb. 3, 1975.
It’s been a bit since a team in the SJHL has had as rough a season as the Ice Wolves did, as the Battlefords North Stars compiled a 5-47-3-3 mark in the 2007-08 campaign.
While things don’t look great for the Ice Wolves after missing out on the post-season in four of the last five seasons, there are some pieces that can return next year that the team can build around.
Alberta-based forwards Curtis Peck, Derek Patter and Brayden Dunn all cracked the 20-point plateau, and the team also has the rights to the Bill twins, Austin and Justin, who put up good numbers in the Midget AAA ranks for the Beardy’s Blackhawks and played for the Ice Wolves this year as affiliated players.
On the blueline, 17-year-old defenceman and one-time North Star Austin Shumanski impressed me when he played in North Battleford after the trade deadline, and goaltender Luke Lush gained a ton of experience after making 38 appearances in his first junior season.
Obviously, there is nowhere to go but up for the Ice Wolves, but I think they should be more competitive when the 2017-18 season begins.
11) Melville Millionaires – 22-33-3-0 - 4th in Viterra Division
Despite an impressive charge, which was helped by the Mustangs struggles over the last month of the season, the Millionaires missed out on the 10th seed by two points and will miss out on the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1996 and 1997.
In looking at the roster that the Millionaires could have next season, however, I think they should have no problems making the playoffs.
Top scorers Damian Bentz, Tucker Scantlebury and Dayton Heino can all return, along with leading blueliner Eric Soar and goaltender of the year nominee Colby Entz.
An affiliated player that is worth keeping an eye on is 16-year-old forward Hunter Lamb. The son of current Tucson Roadrunners head coach Mark Lamb had 41 points in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League this past season for the Swift Current Legionnaires.
Now let’s get into the Survivor Series predictions shall we.
7) Notre Dame Hounds vs. 10) Melfort Mustangs
Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 Final (Melfort won 4-0 – Only Playoff Meeting)
Season Series: Notre Dame 3-1 (Notre Dame outscored Melfort 18-9)
Season Series Scoring Leader:
Notre Dame – Ben Duperreault – 7 points
Melfort – Dakota Boutin – 4 points
Season Series Goaltending Leader:
Notre Dame– Benjamin Patt – 1-1 record with a 2.44 goals against average
Melfort – Evan Plotnik – 1-1 record with a 4.13 goals against average
Prediction: Notre Dame in 3
I’m a believer of never counting out the defending champions until they are eliminated from the playoffs, but given how the Mustangs have played over the last month, I’m not expecting this series to last long.
Granted, the Mustangs do have some key weapons in Plotnik and Boutin that can take over a series, the Hounds rose up the standings in the final weeks and narrowly missed out on avoiding the first round enteirly.
With Duperreault and Adam Dawe leading the way, I think the Hounds should advance and end the Mustangs’ quest for a third straight league title
8) Weyburn Red Wings vs. 9) Kindersley Klippers
Last Playoff Meeting: 2011 Quarter-Final (Kindersley won 4-1 – Weyburn last beat Kindersley 4-0 in 2009 Quarter-Final)
Season Series: Tied at 2-2 (Kindersley Outscored Weyburn 15-11)
Season Series Scoring Leader:
Weyburn – Donavon Lumb – 4 points
Kindersley – Cody Hodgson – 5 Points
Season Series Goaltending Leader:
Weyburn – Shaun Fleming – 1-2 record with a 4.67 goals against average
Kindersley – Justen Close – 1-1 record with a 3.53 goals against average
Prediction: Weyburn in 4
Given that the season series between the two sides was close, I expect this playoff matchup to be a tightly contested one
Throughout the course of the year, and especially with their matchups against the North Stars, I’ve felt like the Red Wings are a better team than their eighth place ranking shows.
They have some solid depth in the lineup and I think that will be the difference over the Klippers in this one.
To be fair, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Klippers pulled off the upset, but them losing all 10 meetings with the North Stars in the regular season sort of affects my overall viewpoint on them.